Big Boom Theory
The Crystal Method is having a terrible time. The two guys who make up the group, Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland, sit in the shadowy corner of a posh San Francisco restaurant, surrounded by chatty radio people and low-rent journalists from video-gaming magazines. Their blond, over-tanned, birdlike manager is squabbling with the waitress about the vegetarian dish. Barely audible among the din of clinking glasses and conversing yuppies, the sound system spills paint-by-numbers, high-energy dance music. The same record has been on repeat for the past two hours. It's not a pretty scene. It reeks of the record industry's put-on excesses. When someone mentions the spartan Las Vegas warehouse where the duo struggled to get their start, Kirkland lovingly refers to it as "a big empty place with a highway view."
Back then, they shared an appetite for the exotic new dance music being imported en masse into Vegas' burgeoning rave scene. Soon, the wild allure of L.A.'s underground across the desert took hold, and they uprooted to join the city's electronic-music revolution. By coupling big beats with ingredients of soul, pop and hard rock, the Crystal Method's dynamic spin on electronic music enlivened the lifeless 808-thump of rave culture.
"Moving to L.A. was a big turning point for us," Jordan says. "It kind of helped light a fire under us because there was so much good music around, and we just wanted to be a part of it. That first album seemed like a project we had been working on for most of our lives. It seemed like it took our whole life up until that point to make, but moving out of Vegas really got things happening."
The Crystal Method performs December 19 at NextStage as part of the "How the Edge Stole Christmas" concert, with Jane's Addiction, the Burden Brothers, Kill Hannah and Blue October.
That's an understatement. When the Crystal Method finally released its debut in 1997, the world of dance music stopped mid-cabbage patch to listen. The homesick-titled Vegas spread through the club scene, crossing the ocean and catapulting the duo into the international spotlight. With huge beats and an affinity for mixing rock guitars, hip-hop beats and ambient techno, they were immediately pegged as America's answer to the U.K.'s Chemical Brothers.
But that was 1997. (This is the part of the movie in which a gust of wind rips off calendar pages--a montage of international tours, two full-length records, film scores, video-game soundtracks and a flood of collaborative side projects.) Now, seven years later, the Crystal Method has made a dent in pop culture. And here we are, sipping $14 chocolate martinis.
"Things tend to blur by," Jordan says. "I think that is the nature of the music business probably. I feel like there hasn't been a break since we released Vegas. It's hard to take it all in, really--just one thing after the next, and everything goes by faster."
In the next few months, the blur is probably going to continue as the duo jet-set across the globe. This martini session is an early listening party for their new release, Legion of Boom. The record took the better part of the past two years to create and will take the better part of next year to promote, between DJ appearances and a full-blown international tour.
"Touring on the record is great. We get to play our own music and introduce it to people in a live format. But I think the DJ sets are like looking at what makes the record in the first place." Jordan continues, "It lets people know what we're listening to and what influences the music we make. The sound of our DJ sets is like our live band sets, but they are much more club-oriented than our albums are. And when you DJ, it feels much less like people are looking at you in a fishbowl. You're playing music, and people are dancing, not standing there watching you, waiting to clap. They're just enjoying the sounds."
Jordan rattles through the list of his favorite turntable sounds--music by remix master Adam Freeland, DJ Punk and the breakbeats of Elite Force, to name a few. When asked if he spins any of his own creations while DJing, he gets a little sheepish. "You know," he says, "if the mood is right."
With Legion of Boom, the right mood could be almost anything. The Crystal Method's sonic mood swings will be blasting dance floors from Dallas to Denmark, and it likely will be one of the most commercially successful electronic records of 2004. Recorded in the duo's garage home studio in an L.A. suburb, the record is a set of high-volume singles and hard-driving, eclectic dance. It's rife with guest contributions and has a notable edge that distinguishes it from anything in the band's catalog.
"After we finished tweaking the album we noticed that, overall, it was a little darker and heavier than we had intended it to be," Jordan says. "Even down to the artwork, it comes off as a bit more apocalyptic than we had first intended. Combined with 9-11 and the state of world events, there are times when it seems kind of sinister."
No matter how unintentional, the sinister element provides the much-needed thread to bind an otherwise split personality. The band's distinctive musical mash-ups have always been known for spontaneity, and Legion of Boom is a fast ride with many sharp turns. But there are moments when the record seems to be searching for the homogeneity that made the Crystal Method so distinctive during its mid-'90s glory days.
"A lot of the way we approach music has changed," Jordan says. "There is so much more new music that is influencing us. We're surrounded by it all the time, checking out bands and going to hear people spin. L.A. is full of it, and it's almost overwhelming."
At times Legion of Boom is a bit overwhelming. Freestyle vocal improvisations from L.A. performance poet Hanifah dovetail perfectly with soulful Tina Turnerisms from Bell Ray's starlet Lisa Kekaula. But as soon as the record hits a hard-grooving stride, high-powered guitar riffage from former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland brings it to the cusp of a nü-metal coup. It can make one yearn for the intoxicating home brews of the band's yesteryear.
"With our earlier stuff there were no expectations, and we probably surprised a lot of people," Jordan says. "Of course, it's different now because people have an idea what to expect. But even though that can be a lot of pressure, it's also a good thing because it makes you try things creatively you never have done before. You want to keep catching people off guard and keep sounding fresh."
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